Aberdeen has been known as “the Granite City” for many years. When you arrive here it’s obvious why: the commercial and religious buildings in the city centre and many of the houses are largely constructed from granite.
The story of how and why Aberdeen came to be the Granite City is interesting and, in places, both amusing and sad.
Obviously, the key is the geology of the area. The North-East of Scotland is underlain by granite rocks of sufficient quantity and quality that it became worthwhile quarrying them in the 18th century. The industry developed substantially, with granite being sent to England for use in, amongst other things, Trafalgar Square, the terraces of the Houses of Parliament, Waterloo Bridge and, closer to home, the Bell Rock Lighthouse off the coast of Angus. The strength of the granite and the skills of the masons who built it are demonstrated by the fact that this is the world’s oldest surviving, sea-washed lighthouse (built between 1807 and 1810 by Robert Stevenson).
Before the advent of power tools (in the 1890s), all the cutting work was done by hammers, chisels and picks. Given that granite is a very hard stone, this was hard but highly skilled work. Even after the introduction of pneumatic drills, the work was arduous and, especially when explosives were used, could be quite dangerous.
The most famous quarry was undoubtedly the one at Rubislaw, just off Anderson Drive (the city’s inner ring-road). In the 18th century, the Town Council owned the land where this quarry was situated, but thinking it was of limited value sold it for £13. This was probably not the best decision in local government history as Rubislaw Quarry turned out to be incredibly valuable and didn’t close for almost another 200 years! In that time, hundreds of thousands of tons of granite were removed, creating, in the process, a hole that was believed to have been the deepest in Europe.
The hole is about 142 metres (466 feet) deep and 120 metres (390 feet) across. Today, it’s filled with water and surrounded by trees and buildings and many people don’t even know it’s there. The water level has been a problem in recent years as it’s still rising, and steps had to be taken to pump water out, however, it’s been a very important part of the history of our city and it’s worth finding out more about it – which you can do at this website.
Julie Skinner, Resourcing & Benefit Specialist